Margaret Pelligrini busts out of an eggshell bed during “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” in the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz. She and her fellow Munchkins got paid $50 a week plus room and board. “Toto made more money than we did,” she said during a visit to Seattle in March. “He had a better agent.”
At any rate, that fantasy land had to be warmer than Post Alley’s Market Theater, where Pelligrini, at 85 the youngest remaining Munchkin, shivered inside her costume on a cold day before greeting the matinee audience of a new musical production called L. Frank Baum’s Oz.
Pelligrini entered her Oz when she was just 15. A chance meeting with some well-connected little people at the Memphis State Fair led to a call from a Hollywood agent and an eight-week stint at MGM Studios, where the fetching youngster distracted her same-sized coworkers. “A lot of them were fighting to see who was gonna take me out,” she recalled. She caught the eye of a fellow from the Lollipop Guild but the Coroner—you know, the one who verifies that the Wicked Witch of the East is “not only merely dead but really most sincerely dead”—got a date and gave her a one-pound box of Whitman’s candy. And not many people can boast a teenage job that lasted a lifetime: Pelligrini estimated she attends Oz-related events at least seven months out of the year. “Once I leave here,” she said, “I’m already booked in Florida at a shopping mall.”